Sustainability at the forefront as retailers commit to a greener future

With the entry of corporate houses into organised retail, Indian retailers have moved beyond just doing charity to the poor, institutes, and temples. Today, from firmly established brick-and-mortar retailers to continuously growing e-commerce giants to omni-channel players, to globally known designers to young talent to top emerging brands, all are putting in dedicated efforts for the triple bottom line, People, Planet, and Profit.

The leaders of Indian fashion retail such as Aditya Birla Fashion Retail Limited; Reliance Trends; Reliance Brands; Arvind; Trent Limited; Raymond Ltd.; Shoppers Stop; V-Mart; V2 Retail to e-commerce platforms Flipkart, Myntra, Meesho, and many other D2C brands are taking up multiple initiatives to support sustainability. 

Having their own corporate structure, legal and ethically responsible, strong collaboration with international brands and retailers, growing consumer awareness, and ability to save on cost are some of the major factors motivating retailers to tread the path of sustainability. Even concerned stakeholders continue to give a further boost towards ensuring a sustainable fashion supply chain such as Apparel Sourcing Week (ASW), which has created a dedicated platform to address its various facets including sustainability in retail, green funding, green manufacturing, and more.

Becoming sustainable 

Targeting from luxury to value segment, most of the retailers and brands in India are focusing on nearly all the areas where they can save resources. This includes the use of sustainable raw materials, thrust on sustainable and best manufacturing practices in their manufacturing set-ups as well as in their vendor base, and support to their staff as well as the society. 

For example, Reliance Retail, with its fashion and lifestyle business of over 3,100 stores with a presence in over 1,000 cities, has made a capital investment of approximately Rs. 7.73 crores in various energy conservation initiatives like efficient HVAC equipment at stores/sites. The company’s design strategy is charted to have minimal impact on forest and conventional resources. 

Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail Limited (ABRFL), which has 3,977 stores and covers almost all the segments of apparel retail, is among the few top retailers that have their proper annual sustainability report and it was declared Asia’s ‘Most Sustainable Company in the Textile, Apparel and Luxury Goods Industry’ by S&P Global CSA for a second consecutive year. The company also added 33 percent renewable energy to its energy mix across operations against the target of 35 percent. 

Retailers also focus on using sustainable raw materials, adopting Diversity and Inclusion (D&I), and taking a variety of steps to ensure the betterment of mental and physical health and well-being of their employees. One of the best examples is Shopper Stop. Its project Ecoliva is about using sustainable raw materials like viscose rayon and bamboo and further focus is on collections made with ‘zero discharge’ of water as part of its line of sustainable clothing. 

There are retailers which also focus on sustainable logistics Tata Trent has shifted from diesel-based trucks to CNG, increased the size of the trucks to reduce the number of trucks travelling, and opened regional distribution centres to optimise logistics. It has also adopted a few interesting initiatives like itis using smart lighting for stores, maximising the use of rooftop space for solar electricity generation, and achieving complete circularity of waste from stores, distribution centres, and corporate offices. 

‘Bag of Love’ is another interesting initiative of the company. In association with Bhansali Trust, it has built an institute in Radhanpur village of Gujarat. The lower-income household women of this village and 150 neighbouring villages were trained to stitch by Trent employees and experts. Once the women passed the training exam, they were employed to make bags for Tata’s retail ventures like Westside, Zudio. So far more than 1.5 million bags have been made and 1.1 million metres of fabric have been diverted from landfills

E-retailers equally concerned 

E-retailers are also taking the lead on various sustainable, employee-friendly, and CSR activities and this covers a large gamut of activities right from moving away from the use of plastic in its packaging.

Walmart-owned e-commerce giant Flipkart has introduced recycled and sustainable materials as part of achieving a target of zero wastage. Having reduced the use of plastic packaging across India, the company is phasing out non-sustainable materials completely from its Maharashtra supply chain.

Flipkart and Myntra also commit to responsible sourcing of sustainable packaging and man-made cellulosic fibres, and for the same, they have collaborated with not-for-profit environmental organisation Canopy. Both of them have joined Canopy’s Pack4Good and CanopyStyle initiatives to extend their commitment towards sustainability and conserve forests by moving towards incorporating sustainable packaging and material sourcing.

Not only established corporate retailers or e-commerce giants having a large amount of funding are into such interesting initiatives, but even strongly emerging retailers are following similar policies. Jaipur-based leading brand (Nandani Creation Limited) has a one-day period (menstrual) leave policy for its women employees, amounting to a total of 12 leaves annually. These leaves will be over and above the regular leaves and holidays.

Retailers’/brands’ noble activities are associated with their product launches. Wrogn, an apparel brand for men co-created by Virat Kohli, launched a limited-edition capsule in collaboration with the Virat Kohli Foundation. Together, three celebrities –Virat Kohli(Cricketer); Karan Johar (Filmmaker) and Badshah (Rapper) have created an initiative that blends fashion and philanthropy to support sports welfare and animal welfare through the Virat Kohli Foundation. The proceeds from this collection will be donated to the cause supported by the foundation. There are many such examples where capsule collections or sustainable clothing lines have been launched with a specific purpose. 

A lot more to do for many 

Through the above-mentioned achievements, retailers have proven that the Indian apparel retail scenario is much ahead in sustainability and CSR, but at the same time, a lot more is yet to be done, especially as there are several old brands that have more than 200 EBOs and own manufacturing set-ups and being public limited companies, their information is also in the public domain. But these companies just follow the law of the land and nothing beyond that. Many well-known brands and retailers don’t have any prescribed mechanism for sustainable sourcing. 

Almost 11 years ago, M&S opened its first sustainable store in India. Spread across three floors, the store hosts a range of sustainable construction and design features to reduce energy usage and waste. It also has sustainable features like heat-transmitting glass helping to maintain in-store temperatures and cut UV ray penetration by 90 percent, solar reflective tiles that keep the store cool, ENERGY STAR-certified equipment, and energy meters that monitor the store’s energy performance. Other features include rainwater harvesting, dedicated recycling bins, the use of rapidly renewable raw materials such as engineered wood, and excellent public transport links. However, hardly any Indian brand or retailer has such a strong focus on sustainability in stores. Indian retailers are now focused on using carry bags using pre-consumer waste textiles, and compostable biodegradable polybags, but there are many more sustainable steps that should be included in their stores.  

Green is the colour of a promising future; let’s paint it green!



Views expressed above are the author’s own.


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